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We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

Old Feb 13th, 2014, 06:12 PM
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We saw London, we saw France as well as The Netherlands and Belgium

We saw London, we saw France and lots more.
Day 1 (9/18) Amsterdam
Well I have put off this trip report long enough so here goes. I am writing this to pay forward the help and advice which I received from members of this forum. Members were so helpful with ideas, answers and suggestions to my questions and in writing this I hope that I can offer something to a new traveler. I do not have a flair for writing and I offer a fair warning this will be a thirty day travel report which will not have tootsie rolls or twerking involved. We are just two travelers who discovered new cities and experiences.

We landed in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 8 a.m. a bit ahead of schedule. The flight over was not painful since it was not full. My DH and I were in a row with another gentleman who wanted to sit with his friends further up the plane. There some empty seats and he was offered the chance to move which gave us the extra seat in a three across row as more space. Sweet. The dinner was palatable but breakfast was dismal. We just had tea with the hope of getting something better when we landed.

Schiphol is a wonderful airport with lots of shops, the train station right below it and is very nicely planned out. Finding your way around is easy because of the good signage. It is the fourth busiest airport in Europe but is easy to navigate. After finding an ATM to get Euros, we went downstairs to buy a train ticket to Sloterdijk Station. The ticket kiosk took our American credit card with a chip and pin without any problems and we headed over to the train platform.

After a brief train ride, we arrived at Sloterdijk station and walked less than a block to our hotel. I want to mention that many may find fault with us staying at a hotel chain throughout our trip, but the rooms were all free with hotel loyalty perks and that in itself made a 30 day holiday extremely low cost (we had been saving points for years to be able to do this.). We were a bit concerned that we would be staying away from the city center but getting around was quite easy since the buses are stationed right outside the hotel and the train station next door.

The hotel was very welcoming and was able to check us in immediately although it was early in the morning and offered us the complimentary breakfast buffet.
We jumped at the opportunity since the “breakfast meal” on the plane was disgusting with instant coffee no less.

The hotel buffet was brilliant with an assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, breads, rolls, croissants, fresh sliced vegetables, cheese spreads, gingerbread, yogurt, Nutella and something we had not encountered before, De Ruijter sprinkles. They had milk chocolate, dark chocolate, fruit sprinkles along with milk chocolate and dark chocolate flakes. We tried some and found them delightful. I must get some of these to take home to friends.

Fortified after breakfast, we took the train from Sloterdijk Station to Central Station and set out on foot to explore the city. Central Station is lovely itself. Built in 1889, it is a Neo-Renaissance building and we had to take some photos of it before continuing.

Across the street from the station is a tourist information center and we walked over to see what they offered. Aside from selling a few books, GVB info, it basically was pushing the I Amsterdam card which really didn’t suite our needs and it was 62 euros for a three day pass which would cover things we might not want and we would be here for a week. We didn’t want to rush about trying to use the card in 72 hours, so we decided to wait and purchase a Museumkaart later at a museum.

You will find that a great deal of our trip will be spent just walking about a city while taking photos, looking at sights, visiting museums and interacting with people.

We walked down into the heart of the city along Damrak on our way to Nine Little Streets. Damrak is an area which was dirty and tacky with cheap tourist shops. I would name this the ugliest street in Amsterdam so if you come here just keep on walking. We had our wits about us and kept an eye out for pickpockets and dodgy people. Apart from a couple of good four stars hotels and clothing store C&A there is not much here for you. But push on because once you make it past this first encounter, you will be rewarded with a clean and lovely city. The residents here are the friendliest people I have ever met. I instantly fell in love with Amsterdam.

Nine Little Streets has many boutique and specialty shops in wonderfully old 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings. We strolled along taking photos, admiring the canal houses and taking lots of photos. We visited a few shops and boutiques along the way.

We started at the Van Loon Museum where we could buy the Museumkaart for 54.9 Euros. It is good for one year and lets you into over 400 museums in the Netherlands. Since we were planning some day trips to see other museums this was a very good deal.

The Van Loon Museum is the former home of Willem van Loon who co-founded the Dutch East-India Company. His descendants came into possession of the house in 1884 and decided to turn it into a museum and open it to the public. The family operates the museum.

It is a wonderful canal house built in 1672 and has a formal garden in back with a coach house with a classical façade. Inside is a large collection of paintings, fine furniture and porcelain from different centuries. There is even an old kitchen in the basement with cooking utensils, etc.

Next, we walked across the canal bridge to the FOAM photography museum where we saw a Lee Friedlander exhibit, “America by Car”. It was surreal to travel to Amsterdam to see an American artist’s work on display but we loved the exhibit.

After this, it was getting too late to visit another museum so we just walked about the canals exploring and photographing the city.

We stopped at a pub in Rembrandtplein where I had a beer and DH had a venever. We sat outside under a huge awning to watch the people about and relax. It started to sprinkle and I discovered that I was sitting beneath a gap in the awning so I moved. Luck was with me because what was a sprinkle turned into a downpour. We didn’t care since we were dry and drinking libations. We had some cheddar cheese egg rolls (?) The rain lasted less than an hour and we decided to check out the statue of Rembrandt in the center of the area. The statue is on a grey granite base bearing a replica of his signature. It is surrounded by a bronze-cast representation of his most famous painting, The Night Watch. This bronze-cast representation of the famous painting was on display for three-years before traveling and returned in 2012. In January 2013, the Rembrandtplein Entrepreneurs Foundation began a fundraiser to keep the sculptures in the square throughout the year. It is really amazing.

We saw an Indonesian restaurant across the street called Pelangi and decided to have dinner there since eating a rice table meal was on our “to do” list. It is a small restaurant and it looked like a family business.

We ordered the basic rice table meal. There is a deluxe meal as well but there were like thirty courses and we knew we would never be able to finish it. Our meal consisted of white rice, spring rolls, beef curry chicken sate, stirred fried vegetables in coconut oil, sprouts in peanut sauce, fried eggs in chili sauce and stirred fried rice along with bottles of water. The server and owner were very friendly and explained everything to us in detail about the dishes. You could see the tiny kitchen in the back and there was one older woman doing the cooking. The food was quite good and very reasonably priced. The server told us to take our leftover bottles of water with us and not to tip since it was included in the meal cost. I guess that when they learned it was our first visit and dinner in their city, they felt they should acquaint us with the customs.

We left and walked over to the tram stop and checked a map to see which one to take. A gentleman who was waiting for the tram asked us if we needed help with the map. He was so quick to offer help even though we know better than to stand about and look helpless. Anyway, we rode back to our hotel, had a drink and relaxed the rest of the evening after unpacking.
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Old Feb 13th, 2014, 06:15 PM
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Sorry I submitted this twice in error. Please forgive.
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Old Feb 13th, 2014, 06:18 PM
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Hi, I notice this one is tagged for countries, the other is not (where I left my comment). Use the triangle symbol to ask the moderators to remove your other post (no-one will see it after a while as it isn't tagged).

Lavandula
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Old Feb 13th, 2014, 06:22 PM
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Thanks Lavandula. I was trying to see something in FAQ section about removing but couldn't find anything.
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Old Feb 13th, 2014, 07:44 PM
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I can't wait to hear more!
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Old Feb 13th, 2014, 08:02 PM
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I commented on your other thread. I'm in an Amsterdam state of mind lately, so please continue!
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Old Feb 13th, 2014, 08:29 PM
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wowww... would love to hear more!
Can you also tell how you got the hotel free by booking a chain?? I'm planning a similar trip but the only thing in my way is $$$ so i'd like to know how u made it an extremely low cost one . Thanks!
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 04:38 AM
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>>Can you also tell how you got the hotel free by booking a chain
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 05:36 AM
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Loving your report so far
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 09:03 AM
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Day 2 (9/19) Haarlem
Today was cold and windy with grey skies but this didn’t stop us from taking the train to Haarlem. We couldn’t get the ticket machine at Sloterdijk station to take our credit card for tickets and we just scraped together enough coins to buy two tickets. We found out later that at this station the machines only will take Dutch credit cards. There is a ticket center which is staffed by people who will take your credit card but it wasn’t open this morning.

The ride was about 15 minutes and we arrived in Haarlem at a cool Art Nouveau train station a few blocks from Grote Markt which is in the city center. The station has many tiled panels, decorative ironwork and striking a wooden signal house. It was used in the film “Ocean’s Twelve”. I have a “dropbox” app and we used it to access a map of Haarlem. If you don’t have a map, you can still get to the city center by looking for and following the spire of St. Bavo’s. We enjoyed looking at the shop windows which we passed walking toward the city center but it was quite chilly and a pair of gloves and a hat would have been a nice addition to our light jackets.

Grote Markt contains many interesting buildings with wonderful architecture. Here you will find many of Haarlem's famous buildings, including the City Hall, The Vlesshal, Hoofwacht and Saint Bavo Church. Later in the day it will be very lively with many bars and restaurants around the square. Near the center is a statue of L. J. Coster who is regarded in the Netherlands as the inventor of the printing press.

It was early so it was nearly deserted with only delivery trucks at some of the restaurants around the markt and locals getting to their jobs. Very few tourists had arrived so we were able to walk around enjoying the area and taking several photos without being crowded.

Our first stop was at St. Bavo Church. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and contains the lovely Muller organ from 1738. It is 98 feet tall and covers the entire west wall. The pinnacle is crowned with two lion figures holding the coat of arms of Haarlem. It is richly gilded and is decorated with more than twenty five larger than life statues. It has more than 5000 pipes and it must have sounded magnificent when a 10 year old Mozart played it. It was also played by G. F. Handel and Mendelssohn as well. (Quite a pedigree)

It has only one original stained glass window remaining from the 1600s. The rest are either from demolished churches or created in the 20th century. DH found two wall plaques with the family name on them.

The choir loft is quite amazing with interesting details here and there. There are dog statues and wooden carvings throughout, including a stone pillar with a man whipping a dog near a small chapel.

Looking across the markt as we exited the church we could see City Hall and on the right was the Vleeshal (meat market) from 1603. There are these cool ox-heads on the front of the building showing its original purpose.

We walked to the Franz Hals Museum and enjoyed the paintings by Hals and many other Dutch painters. There are lovely period rooms with donations from local collections. There is a collection of silver pieces from various churches. Along the halls are beautiful Dutch tiles from local salvage operations that accompanied by 17th century furniture including clocks, chairs, and chests.

There is a most enchanting doll house with perfect miniatures of a home with every last detail. There was a video showing how the house and items were restored and they even show the interior of a book with fine drawings and print all in miniature of course. I had to pull myself away to see the rest of the museum.

When we left, the weather had turned warm and sunny. We walked along a canal until we found the Teylers Museum. It has an eclectic collection of fossils, minerals, scientific instruments, medals, coins, and paintings as well as 25 sketches by Michelangelo. There was also a temporary special collection of work by Franz Hals. We had a snack and drink in the museum café of nothing special but it was a good excuse to sit and rest our feet. It did have a lovely view of an interior garden.

Walking along the canal, we were lucky enough to see a bridge open for two boats by pivoting around to the side to let them pass. I had to video that one.

We started back toward the train station, stopping at some of the shops that were not open when we passed the first time. We stopped at Tromp Cheese Shop where we tried a few cheeses and bought a raw cheese Gouda. It had a nice nutty flavor. The young man in there was quite happy to offer samples of the various cheeses and we chatted a bit. DH bought a couple of cigars at the cigar shop next door. I wanted a knit hat that I saw on some models in a shop window but when I inquired about them, I learned that they weren’t for sale; they were a giveaway when you purchased a dress. I didn’t need to add any more to my carryon bag, so now I had a quest to find one.

Back in Amsterdam, we took a tram to Museumplein for dinner and to visit the Stedelijk Museum since it was open late tonight.

For dinner, we went to the Stedelijk restaurant and were quite surprised by how good it was. We shared a starter of Raw Dutch sausage and Old Amsterdam cheese. It was really pleasant and tasty. For entrees, we had the steak béarnaise with fries. Everything was done perfectly and the fries were so nicely crisp on the outside but tender on the inside (just the way they should be). We enjoyed a red wine as well.

After a leisurely dinner we went next door to visit the museum. By showing our Museumkaart, we walked right in. It has a wonderful collection of modern art along with a nice bookstore and gift shop. We left just before closing and took the tram back to our hotel.
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 09:10 AM
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I do not have a flair for writing and I offer a fair warning this will be a thirty day travel report which will not have tootsie rolls or twerking involved.>>

well, you've already disproved this, lateinlife. i'm really enjoying your writing and your account of your trip.

keep it coming.
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 11:07 AM
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annhig - Oh thank you so much. I struggled with the decision of whether or not to submit this.
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 12:50 PM
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I am surely enjoying this. It is bringing back memories of my visits there as well as noting some new places to visit on my next trip, Please continue!
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 01:47 PM
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Glad you overcame struggle, latein. I'm enjoying it.
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Old Feb 14th, 2014, 03:56 PM
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I will be in Amsterdam in April, and have really enjoyed your report with all it's good detail!
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Old Feb 15th, 2014, 06:16 AM
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Day 3 (9/20) Amsterdam
Today was a lovely, sunny and comfortingly warm day. We took different trams and rode about the city checking out the scenery and places. We stopped at the Albert Cuypmarkt that has been a street market since 1905. It is in the middle of the De Pijp Quarter. With 260 market stands, there is something for everyone. We found some lovely scarves and a knit hat very similar to the one I saw and wanted in Haarlem yesterday. There lots of bargains to be found and we had fun checking out all the stands. I bought some lovely, extra large figs that later proved to be wonderful with our cheese purchase from yesterday. There were also interesting food vendors but we were saving our appetites for lunch.

We had reservations at De Compagnon for a 3 course truffle lunch that we had purchased through Groupon which made it available for half price. After a bit of trouble locating it and asking for directions, we found it at the end of a street which stopped at the canal’s edge. It is a small restaurant with a small dining area on the first and second floors with a great view of the canal. We were seated on the second floor near a window that looks out over the canal. It was a lovely setting for lunch.

The server brought over garlic scented olives, olive oil and fresh bread before taking our order.
They gave DH an amuse bouche of lobster bisque and I had a dish of goat cheese with beet foam, eggplant caviar with a Romanian pepper and a cracker.

The first course was potato foam with summer truffles where they poured a mushroom “tea” over it at the table.

The second course was baked cod with truffle sauce and shavings accompanied by braised celery, onion, Belgian endive and French lentils.

The third course was a truffled ice cream, a meringue with Greek yoghurt topped with hazelnuts and caramel sauce covered with truffle shavings and muscovado sugar.

After enjoying our lunch and wine we felt very pleased indeed at our good fortune. The service was impeccable as well the attention to detail of the courses. Looking over the restaurant balcony to the front desk below, I saw a cat jump up on the counter and start drinking from a glass of water setting there. It was so cute watching it lap up the water from the glass just as proper as you please. We asked about her as we were leaving and the person at the counter stated in a matter of fact way that this was her glass and that is how she wished to drink. So cute. 

After lunch we went to the Rijksmuseum where we spent a few hours and since it was open late that evening, we left to go over to the Van Gogh Museum. We could only see part of the Rijksmuseum before they closed so we planned to return another day because there is so much to see and we didn’t want to short change it. We really love museums and were so fortunate to plan our trip shortly after the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh reopened last spring. They are amazing and with the Museumkaart, we could just waltz up to the entrance, have our card scanned and enter. No time wasted in a queue.

The Van Gogh Museum was really special for me since I really love impressionism.
The first floor shows the works of Van Gogh grouped chronologically. The second floor gives information about the restoration of paintings and had several drawings of his. The third floor shows paintings of Van Gogh's contemporaries in relationship to the work of Van Gogh himself. The museum was packed and we all had to dutifully side step in a synchronized line around the room to see each piece. Still, it was well worth it.

One painting called “Almond Blossoms” was really beautiful and DH found a scarf in the gift shop with that design on it and he bought it for me. It will make a great souvenir because every time I wear it, I will remember the emotions that Van Gogh’s work evokes.

There is a Hein grocery right by the museums, so we stopped to get a little something for a light dinner in our room since we were still quite full from the big lunch we had earlier. We had a little picnic of salami and the cheese we purchased yesterday in Haarlem along with some bitter lemon soda and fresh figs.

I tossed in some Patron tequila into the soda to liven it up. (nice touch).
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Old Feb 15th, 2014, 06:49 AM
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late in life - I too have a lovely scarf that I bought in Amsterdam which has beautiful tulips on it; I love wearing it for the very same reason.
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Old Feb 15th, 2014, 01:31 PM
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annhig could not have said it better... looking forward to more.
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Old Feb 15th, 2014, 09:39 PM
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Enjoying your trip report.
We will be there in April.
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Old Feb 16th, 2014, 01:04 PM
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Day 4 (9/21) Amsterdam
After a great breakfast buffet at the hotel (I love the cumin seed cheese) we rode the tram to Museumplein and back to Dam Square to get a feel for the city. The Nieuwe Kerk from the 15th century is now a place for art exhibitions and since there wasn’t one at the time we were there, we could not go inside. We took photos of the outside and walked over to see the Royal Palace (also closed) as well as take photos of it and the square. In front of the Palace was an area where horse and carriages were standing waiting for riders.

Across the street is a 1956 World War II monument in the center of Dam Square. Crossing the street we looked at it and continued to walk over to the Red Light District from here. It is a very busy, touristy area redolent with the smell of marijuana and coffee shops on every block. One store advertised an “end of summer” sale on marijuana seed packets. Nope no souvenirs for back home. Lol.

We walked around the area checking out some of the shops and then up to De Oude Kerk, an 800 year old church built in 1213. It is Amsterdam’s oldest building and is full of history as well as the tombs of many famous residents. In fact the floor consists entirely of gravestones since the church is built on a cemetery.

We saw the room where Rembrandt was married and his wife’s grave along with a small Rembrandt exhibit as a shrine to her.

There is a Bronze statue Belle in front of the Oude Kerk. With the inscription which says "Respect sex workers all over the world."

From here, we walked along the streets back toward Central Station where we took a canal boat ride. It was a warm and sunny day and was perfect for a ride. It was quite enjoyable with lots of interesting architecture to be seen. These canal houses are often slim, high and deep with several stairs to the front door to avoid flooding. In these cases, there is a special beam or
pulley installation located in the attic to hoist up furniture and such that wouldn’t make it through the narrow winding stairwells. You can see a long pole hanging over the front of the houses. Many windows can be taken out of the wall completely for the same reason. After standing so long, some are a bit crooked. We passed a house front only one window wide on Singel. Very narrow indeed. I love the unique architecture of the canal houses with their unique design.

Houseboats line almost every canal. You will see them with gardens on decks and roofs, with cushy upholstered chairs on deck, with tables and chairs.

At one point we could see the Seven Bridges Reguliersgracht that are so famous. They stopped to let us grab a couple of photos. Looking through the closest one, you can see a line of six other bridges in a line receding along the canal. At night these bridges are illuminated.

After the canal ride we walked to Siberie to peruse their menu. I found the canabonbons to be most interesting. They came in milk, dark and white chocolate (everything for the connoisseur to enjoy). We stopped at an Albert Hein’s grocery to buy some ham that seemed like speck and a mild cheese along with rolls for dinner and took the tram back to our hotel. It was a mild pleasant evening and we sat outside for awhile enjoying the night air.
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